Paris says Lebanese PM maintains free movement, Pres. Macron schedules trip to Riyad to discuss Lebanon crisis

The political party headed by the Lebanese Prime Minister al-Hariri announced that he must return to Beirut from Saudi Arabia to uphold Lebanon’s system of government, which dictates under the Ta’if Agreement of 1989 that ended the Lebanese civil war – that a member of the Sunni Muslim community must act as the country’s Prime Minister. A senior member of Al Hariri’s faction said, “The return of the Prime Minister, the national leader, Saad Hariri, is necessary to recover respect for Lebanon’s internal and external balance, and in the framework of full respect for Lebanese legitimacy and constitution and the Taif agreement (1989 peace deal that ended the civil war) and respect for the Arab and international legitimacy,’ he said. Hariri’s Future Movement further reaffirmed their support for Sa’ad al-Hariri’s leadership, emphasizing that they would stand behind him under any circumstance. They declared, “The political party and its board members reaffirm its position of supporting Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his leadership with heart and mind and the party stands by him under any circumstance.”

The Lebanese government believes that al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will, and plans to work with foreign states to secure his return. The strong allegation voiced in Beirut against Riyadh has prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to make an announcement of an unscheduled trip to Saudi Arabia, for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Macron said the trip, which comes amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, would focus particularly on Yemen and Lebanon. President Macron said, “That’s also one of the objectives of my visit to Saudi Arabia which was decided early this morning. I’m going to Riyadh after this visit to see the crown prince, first of all to meet him for the first time, but also to talk about regional questions, particularly Yemen and Lebanon,” the French leader announced in a press conference.

While the unscheduled trip by the French President Macron to Saudi Arabia points to concerns of Lebanon’s stability, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he believes that Saudi Arabia did not have any particular constrains on al-Hariri’s movements. It is important to note that France, which ruled in Lebanon following World War One, has significant influence over Beirut, where the French language is still widely spoken fluently across the country. In addition, since Paris played a constructive role in the reconstruction of Lebanon following the country’s civil war, and is considered to be the patron of Lebanon’s Christian population, France has been actively assisting in maintaining Beirut’s stability.